Sharp Knives by Kathryn Ramage

The last time Frodo had seen Tansy, she'd been a slender girl of about thirty. She was certainly older now and thicker about the waist. Frodo wondered if she were pregnant. She'd already given birth to at least one child, for he heard the prattling voice of a toddler from somewhere within the Thursk smial high on the hillside above Tookbank. But those large, soft and stormy brown eyes that he associated with the Clover family remained the same. Today, they were pink-rimmed with tears as she opened the door and regarded him suspiciously.

"Mrs. Thursk?" Frodo began. "I don't know if you remember me-"

"'Course I remember you, Mr. Baggins," she answered shortly. "I'm not like to forget, am I? You looked into our Toby's murder and found out it wasn't the Tooks who did it. I guess you're here now to prove it wasn't Mrs. Melilot Took as killed Tibby and her husband. You an't here to look upon Tibby."

Frodo admitted that he hadn't come to view her brother's body. "Do you believe that Mrs. Took did it, Mrs. Thursk?" he asked.

Tansy gave him a sullen, glowering look before she replied, "I don't know her, Mr. Baggins. I never set eyes on her, as far as I know."

"Do you believe that I'm interested in finding the person who did this, regardless of whom it is?" Given Tansy's attitude, Frodo expected her to question his motives--but to his surprise, she nodded.

"I hear things about you, Mr. Baggins," she told him. "You got famous looking into murders all over the Shire since you was here last. I know you won't lie for the Tooks if one of them done it, nor even for somebody that's closer kin to you. I don't blame you anymore for what happened to my dad, and I don't blame his Thainship either. He looked after me after Dad died, 'til I married Rudmer and found a home o' my own. But all the same, we should never've come here from Oatbarton. Maybe the Tooks never meant us harm, but they've been the death of all my family except me."

"I'd like to talk to you about Tibby," Frodo requested. "Do you mind, Mrs. Thursk? May I come in?"

She remained wary, but stepped away from her door to allow him to enter. Chief Shirriff Thornbreak, who had stood waiting at the garden gate, tugged the brim of his cap and informed Frodo that he was going back down to the high street; Frodo could find him having his luncheon at the Bullroarer's Head when he was done here. Frodo thanked the Shirriff and went inside.

Tansy escorted him past the door of the best parlor, where Tibby lay, and into a smaller sitting room. The child Frodo had heard from outside was seated on the circular rag-rug at the center of the room, playing with a jointed wooden doll. A young hobbit, whom Frodo assumed to be Rudmer Thursk, rose from the settee by the hearth as his wife brought her guest in.

"Who's this, Tansy?"

"Mr. Frodo Baggins, the detective."

Rudmer gaped at Frodo. "I've heard of you, Mr. Baggins. You're famous the Shire over. And you're looking into this awful business with Tansy's brother and Mr. Everard? But everybody says it's-"

"Rud, will you take the little un and put her down for her nap?" Tansy interrupted her husband. "She's looking a mite weary and like to start crying, and Mr. Baggins here wants to ask me about Tibby."

Rudmer took the hint and picked up his little daughter, who didn't look in the least tired or ready to cry, and carried her away to one of the back rooms. Tansy sat down on the settee and invited Frodo to have a seat.

Frodo got straight to the point. "Mrs. Thursk, I'm sure you've given a lot of thought these last few days to who would want to kill your brother. If you don't believe it was my cousin Mrs. Took-"

"I didn't say that!" Tansy corrected him. "Only as I'm not so sure she did it as some folk hereabouts are."

Frodo smiled. "You think it was one of the Tooks."

Her answer again surprised him. "I'd like to say so, Mr. Baggins, but I can't, not with Mr. Everard killed the same as poor Tibby. You know how the Tooks would've liked to see Tibby dead any time since he and Mr. Everard ran off, but that was so Mr. Everard'd come home and behave himself like a proper gent. Oh, some of them'd kill my brother soon enough if they had the chance, but I can't see 'em killing one o' their own no matter what he'd done. So it can't be them."

This was an encouraging sign. If she wasn't ready to accuse the Tooks simply out of old resentments, then Tansy was more likely to give him her honest opinions and perhaps even some helpful information. "Who then?"

Tansy shook her head. "I don't know that there's anybody that'd mean harm to both Tibby and Mr. Everard."

"Did your brother come here to Tookbank after he and Everard returned to this neighborhood?" asked Frodo. "Do you know if he talked to anyone, any of his old friends, or if he had any quarrels?"

"He came up the once, right after Mr. Everard and him came home the week before last. Now, Tibby was never one for writing. Oh, he knew his letters right enough and could read when he wanted to," she added quickly, lest Frodo think her brother was illiterate. "Only, he used to say he never saw much use in it. Such things was for high-born folk like the Tooks and yourself. I never heard from him while he was up north. I only knew he was coming back when I heard talk in the town about Mr. Everard. His dad, Mr. Adelard, had a letter from him. Then there was a knock at the door and Tibby was standing there!" She was growing more comfortable as she talked about her brother. "'Twas a surprise to me, but I was that glad to see him after so long away and no word. You want to know if there was a quarrel, Mr. Baggins? Well, Tibby told me he stopped on his way to see me to have a half-pint at the Bullroarer's Head, where he always used to go, only they wouldn't have him there. Turned 'm off straight away! He didn't come into town after that."

"But you saw him again? Did you go to the cottage to visit him?"

"That's right. I went two or three times," Tansy answered. "Rud said he didn't like me walking out so far by myself when I'm expecting, but it was my going to see Tibby he didn't like. He didn't like it when Tibby came here that once either, but I told him it was to be one or t'other. Nobody was going to stop me seeing my brother." She spoke with the same fierce family loyalty she'd once shown for her father; Frodo had the impression that the emotions that had tied her to her late brother were stronger than those that bound her to her husband. Even now, Tibby was still the more important of the two for her. He wondered, however, if Tibby had cared as much for his sister.

"May I ask what you talked about? I understand that it may have been personal, but it might also help me to understand why he and Everard were killed."

"I don't mind," Tansy said with a shrug. "'Twasn't particularly private. When Tibby first came, he said how he missed me. I showed him the baby and told him there was another little un on the way. He asked about Rud, and told me he was happy to see one of us Clovers was getting on and not stuck in a misery."

"'In a misery'," Frodo repeated these last words. "Is that precisely what he said, Mrs. Thursk?"

"He'd just come from the Bullroarer's, like I told you, Mr. Baggins, and he was upset. I expect he was feeling like he didn't have a friend in all of Tookbank 'cept for me. Rud came home then, while me and Tibby was talking. He used to be Tibby's friend in the old days, but he wasn't happy to see him back again. Rud didn't say so, but both Tibby 'n' me could see how it was. Tib said he wouldn't stay where he wasn't wanted, so he took himself off."

"And when you called at the cottage?"

"Nothing much," said Tansy. "We were just glad to see each other again. If it wasn't for me, Tibby said, he wouldn't've bothered staying on. He didn't want to come back to this part o' the Shire, only Mr. Everard wanted to see his family and his little boy and Tibby was bound to come too. He wanted them to go back north soon as they could. He said so to Mr. Everard when I was there."

"What did Everard say to that?" Frodo wondered.

"He told Tibby they'd talk about it later--meaning, after I was gone. I don't know if they did or not, but they were still there the next time I went to see Tibby."

"When did this happen, Mrs. Thursk?"

"Not more'n a week ago," said Tansy. "They wasn't here that long before Mrs. Took came."

"How well did you know Everard?"

"I never saw much of him," she answered, "'cept as the friend to my two brothers."

"Did it surprise you when he and Tibby ran away together?" Frodo asked.

Tansy shook her head. "It surprised lots o' folks hereabout, 'specially the Tooks, but I knew something o' the sort was in the wind. After Mrs. Took went off to Buckland with their little boy, Mr. Everard used to come to see Tibby. They'd go out for ales together at the Bullroarer's and Tib wouldn't come back all night. I guessed what they was up to."

"Did your brother-" Frodo hesitated, for this was a delicate question. "Did Tibby ever talk to you about his friendship with Everard Took before they went away? Did he leave you with the impression that he was genuinely fond of Everard, or that he only took up with him in order to get revenge on the Tooks?"

"He never said a word to me one way or another," Tansy answered, "but there was something in the way he'd say Mr. Everard's name sometimes that made me think he didn't like him much. It wouldn't surprise me if he was leading Mr. Everard on to get back at the Tooks over Toby." Her eyes flashed. "But Mr. Everard wasn't in love with Tibby neither. He'd've cast Tibby off if he could--only he couldn't!"

"No, he wasn't in love either," Frodo agreed. 'Stuck in a misery' seemed like the perfect description for their mutual situation, but it got him no closer to learning who had murdered them.
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